Flint, MI– Crystal Pepperdine remembers when a group of four guys walked into Tenacity Brewing for a normal night of beer with the bros. 

But it wasn’t just a normal night at the bar– it was a coloring night for all ages organized by Flint Handmade. Pepperdine, the executive director, approached the men anyway, and asked, “Do you want to color?”

To her surprise, they did. And they loved it. 

“It’s so cool seeing people engaging with their creativity,” Pepperdine said. “Everyone is creative. I don’t allow anyone to tell me they’re not creative.”

Since 2007, the nonprofit organization has been on a mission to provide opportunities for creative expression and artistic entrepreneurship to the people of Flint. 

Up until last year, that meant art markets, fairs, craft meetups, and of course, coloring nights at local bars. 

When the pandemic hit in March, the Flint Handmade Spring Market, which had been scheduled for April, had to be moved online. Pepperdine said some artists made sales, but some didn’t.

“It occurred to me that I would rather put money directly into the hands of artists rather than pay for advertising to promote a virtual market,” she said. 

So the non-profit developed themed care packages of bundled goods from more than 25 local artisans. People can choose from a list of different bundles like “Coffee Lover,” “Self Care,” and “Flint Foodie,” place the order online, and have the packages delivered for free anywhere in Genesee County. 

The Coffee Lovers care package features local artisan coffee roasts. Source: Flint Handmade Facebook Page

“It’s important during this time when it’s not possible to have events and fairs, that we still support local artisans,” Pepperdine said. “We want them to weather this pandemic as well as any other small business.” 

In addition to financial support, Pepperdine said the community has had to find safe ways to provide social support for each other. 

The coloring nights and craft meetups were great ways for people to connect with one another and be social, Pepperdine said.

“I’ve had people come to events who confided in me and said they had bad social anxiety and sat in their car for an hour before coming in, but said they were so thankful that they did,” she said. 

Now, the gatherings that would typically be held at a restaurant or a bar, have been moved to an online video call. 

The Yarn Brigade, coordinated by Hayley Randol, now meets on the second and fourth Friday of the month for a Zoom call. Pepperdine said it’s from 5-8, but they often go past 8 “chit-chatting.” 

“It’s funny because we joke that we actually get more done now,” she said. “At restaurants we were spending more time eating, drinking, and talking…now we’ve been able to get more accomplished.”

This year, for their Operation: Warm Up Flint, they were able to knit 522 hats, gloves and scarves to donate. Many of the items were hung up on fences and rails in “high-traffic high-need” areas around the city for anyone to take and keep warm. Some donations went directly to local shelters and rehabilitation centers.

Executive Director Crystal Pepperdine said creating and donating these items was a “cool way to do a charitable community activity while also being creative.” Source: Flint Handmade Facebook Page

“Everyone wants to connect and feel a sense of belonging, especially right now during the pandemic, it’s a hard thing to have,” she said. “Attending the Zoom meetups or just knowing that you’re making stuff that’s going to get donated, gives a sense of belonging that people can attach to right now.”

Anyone of any skill level is welcome to attend the Yarn Brigade Zoom meetings, they just need to send a virtual message requesting the link. People who prefer to knit or crochet by themselves can arrange to donate their items to the operation, too. Once they make ten pieces, they can coordinate a zero-contact porch pickup. Flint Handmade will pick up the items and leave yarn in its place if the crafter wants to continue making more. 

If knitting or crocheting isn’t your thing, the organization also provides free coloring pages by local artists that can be downloaded and printed out from home, or from the Flint Public Library.

Some of the coloring pages might look a little familiar. Since September of last year, Flint Handmade has partnered with the Flint Public Art Project to release a coloring page of a different Flint mural every month.

Pepperdine said people can color in the outlined images and then visit the mural in person. If they take a picture of their coloring page with the mural and send it to Flint Handmade, Pepperdine said they’re organizing prize packs.

The Flint Handmade Yarn Brigade has had to switch to virtual meetings during the pandemic, but they’ve still managed to make 522 pieces to donate. Source: Flint Handmade Facebook Page

“Part of the incentive is we want people to safely get out and go see the murals in person. The murals are so wonderful, such a great addition to the city,” Pepperdine said. “This makes them even more interactive, engaging and hands on. We’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback from families that participated.” 

Each mural coloring page has the logo of the local business or organization that sponsored the page for that month.

“We’ve really had a lot of support from local businesses in the community…we all have to support each other right now,” Pepperdine said. “All of the events and fundraisers we had before aren’t happening, so we’ve had to come up with new and different and creative ways to get that support.”

Once it’s safe, she said Flint Handmade is excited to get back to hosting events, activating spaces, and providing opportunities for more creative expression. Until then, you can get involved or donate by visiting their website.

Amy Diaz is a journalist hailing from St. Petersburg, FL. She has written for multiple local newspapers in her hometown before becoming a full-time reporter for Flint Beat. When she’s not writing you...

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